HISTORIES & FOLKLORE
Hawthorn is known as sceach gheal in Gaeilge (the Irish language) which means “white or bright thorn”, and across Europe and North America other common names appear such as quickthorn, mayblossom, thornapple, or maybush. Across various Northern European traditions, the colors red and white symbolize the Otherworld, aligning hawthorn’s red fruits and white blossoms with Otherwordly associations in company with rowan, holly, and blackthorn. The musky, slightly spicy, sometimes gamey smell of hawthorn blossoms could possibly be a reason why so many associate the tree with cycles of sex, life, and death, and why it's discouraged to bring blossoms indoors. While it's generally thought to be bad luck to bring hawthorn into one's home, sprigs of blooming blossoms are often traditionally brought inside at Bealtaine or May Day when they’re hung above the doorway and colorfully decorated with ribbons and trinkets for good fortune and protection in the coming year.
Hawthorns serve as literal and symbolic hedges, barriers of protection and defense; and offense; boundary places. In fact, the art of the hedgerow is to cultivate hawthorns in such a way as they grow intertwined, forming a natural razor wire-type barrier. They are often planted for protection near doorways, but it's encouraged to take care if cutting down a single wild hawthorn, because misfortune is said to follow; especially should the hawthorn be growing by itself on a hill, a mound, or a ring fort. The most famous story about this involves the Delorean Motor Company, which planned to build its Northern Ireland factory over the top of a hill on which a single hawthorn stood. The Irish workers refused to comply with cutting down the tree. They were overruled, Delorean moved forward with the construction, and soon after the company went bankrupt, making this a fun story to muse over on the folklore's cautionary advice.
In Chinese cooking, hawthorn fruits are used for jams, jellies, and sweet desserts but most often served by themselves. The number of desserts that are either confections, medicines, or both occurs throughout the world but also in Northern Europe where hawthorn flowers were used in them, as well as rose and elderflower. Later, many of these traditions became sweet desserts as we know them, while the use of flower petals disappeared for a time. Since the fruits, also called haws, are high in pectin, they're perfect for use in jams, jellies, and marmalade; sometimes in combination with rose (again) and often served with meats.
Hawthorn flowers and leaves were and are sometimes still used across Europe in traditional savory cookery, often in salads or in a dish called spinée (a type of porridge made with nut milk). Anglo Saxon/Frisian/Norman and precursor populations used berries, stone fruits, and apples in cooking as ingredients themselves; such as savory pottages (a thick soup, stew, or porridge), sauces, and tarts. As an aside, pottages were made with oat, barley, farro, or wheat which all at any time may have been referred to as “corn” in the literature, which is not North American corn, maize; but a catch-all term for any number of grass grains in Europe.
In the book, Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom, Erynn Rowan Laurie describes hawthorn as a catalyst for transformation, bringing submerged pain and /or power to the surface from within. Ogham is an Irish phonetic alphabetic system but also a magical language system based on a broad array of associations and symbolism from animal and plant life to folklore. In support of the tree’s association with both the spoken word and defensive abilities, in the Book of Ballymote we learn that hawthorn was used by the filid (poets) in ritual cursing, exacted at one’s enemies.
For magical purposes, the use of the plant extends even to the wood itself for various uses as wands, staves, stangs, or carved amulets; or other working tools (as it’s ill-advised to trim or cut hawthorn, search for fallen wood). Hawthorn’s vigorous potency makes it perfect for any kind of protective or defensive magic, but it’s recommended to have a very good relationship with the tree and the spirits of the land where the tree lives. When you finally do, berries, bark, and leaves can be gathered for various medicines; create a little sachet or bundle from the leaves for protection at your door; thorns may be carefully gathered for use in sachets or amulets, or even poppets or incense if the work requires. Use of hawthorn in comes up in the Elder Futhark runes as thurisaz or in the Anglo Saxon/Frisian runes as thorn; and in the ogham as h-Úath. I wouldn’t say the associations really cross over from runes to ogham but you do get into a kind of overlapping list of associations and uses around protection, defense, offense, cursing, shielding, and transformative change.
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